Sweating together on the field can beat Friday night drinks for team-building and bonding.
The end-of-week drinks haven't been completely consigned to the ice basket, but Richard Morton CPA says he's noticing something of a trend around the Sydney head office of shopping centre giant Westfield.
"People are looking for a healthier lifestyle,"says Westfield's general manager of finance operations. "We still have Friday night drinks, but they're not what they were five years ago. People are out doing sports."
As it turns out, they're in doing sports as well. And it's not just the preserve of the young and fit. Westfield encourages all comers to join in all sorts of activities under the company's banner.
There are regular competitions for basketball, touch football and cricket. Then there are major events such as the 37-year-old JP Morgan Corporate Challenge – a race now run in 13 cities, with more than 260,000 participants from 8000 companies across the globe.
The JP Morgan race is such a favourite with staff that for the past two years Westfield has taken out the award for the most participants in the Sydney leg.
"It's an event that enables us to get people from all parts of the business to participate and it puts everyone on the same level,"Morton says. "Everyone's there together in the same shirt, whether they're a director or someone from the mailroom – it doesn't matter."
Morton admits it's something of an informal policy at Westfield to push such ventures because there are so many benefits.
As well as bringing together people from different divisions in a more social way, there are networking and marketing opportunities at the bigger events and it's also a way to raise money for charity (Westfield raised A$38,000 at this year's JP Morgan Corporate Challenge).
Does this out-of-office bonding bring about a sense of teamwork … or rivalry?
"Westfield staff tend to be competitive by nature,"Morton says. "It creates a bit of a buzz."
Adam Brown, who works in administration at ANZ Banking Group in Melbourne and heads the bank's social club, says most of the feistiness he has seen at the Australian Corporate Games has been between teams.
"It gets pretty competitive," Brown says. "I saw the touch footy and they were having a crack. It's a bit of fun, but people like to win as well – not for a prize, just for the sporting side of winning."
The Corporate Games are Australia's largest annual multisport championships. It started as a national concept 21 years ago and now includes separate competitions in New South Wales and Queensland.
About 20,000 players puffed and sweated their way through 30 sports in the three competitions last year, from badminton to running and from canoeing to soccer, cricket and golf. Nationally there are often 300 or more companies taking part. And for the winners, there's the kudos of possibly competing at the World Corporate Games.
ANZ is a big backer of the event, with 1400 staff taking part in last year's event in Victoria.
"A lot of these people are active in these sports anyway so they just get a chance to have a fun weekend,"Brown says.
"It's really the fun and health aspect of it. They get to come along for free and have a drink and something to eat, which adds to the atmosphere. But as a team-building exercise, it's great. They get to catch up with friends and their families can come along too."
Dragons on the water
Dragon boat racing is also bringing corporate Australia together. With its origins in China's Pearl River delta and competitive cachet in Hong Kong, the sport is gaining popularity globally. Usually with crews of 20 paddlers, a steerer/sweep and a drummer, dragon boat racing brings with it a carnival atmosphere of colour, sound and ceremony.
Jamie Hodgson, manager of KPMG's IT Advisory Division, will head the consultancy firm's dragon boat crews for the Chinese New Year race at Sydney's Darling Harbour on February 8 and 9.
Hodgson has been racing in dragon boats for two years and says it's a great activity for corporate bonding.
"We like to think we are a sport for all kinds of people and ages. We don't need people who are top-level athletes, we just want people to come along and give it a go for the firm."